For eight years, Black Mountain College occupied Lee Hall during the fall through spring, then stowed its belongings in the attic for the summer months, when YMCA conferences and camps were held. The annual transition eventually became too taxing and the College began to look at more convenient sites.
Just across the valley they discovered Lake Eden, a family retreat center built by Asheville developer E.W Grove in the 1920s. When the resort business dwindled in 1937, Black Mountain College purchased the property. The college’s own talented faculty were commissioned to design studio space, workshops, classrooms, and other modern campus facilities that Blue Ridge lacked. Finally in the spring of 1941, after construction for the new campus was complete, Black Mountain College officially relocated.
It was at the Lake Eden location that BMC could truly thrive. The most intense periods of creativity were held beginning in 1944 and became known as the “Summer Institutes.” Black Mountain College became a nurturing ground for many talents of the twentieth century and headquarters for innovation including construction of the first large-scale geodesic dome, the first multimedia “Happening,” and the publication of The Black Mountain Review.
The avant-garde at Black Mountain College wouldn’t always be so lively. During World War II, the majority of the male students and faculty left the campus. The student body became largely women and European refugees and the focus of curriculum evolved into more literary arts. Many of the students and faculty sought opportunities elsewhere and would go on to impact modern art movements in larger metropolitan cities like San Francisco, New York, or Paris.
By the 1950s, Black Mountain College, like many other experimental American institutions, struggled to exist. Enrollment decreased and eventually the college could no longer stay afloat. The college suspended classes by court order in 1957 and in 1962, the school’s books were finally closed with all debts covered.
Over its memorable 23 year history, Black Mountain College served about 1,200 students. Due to BMC’s academic intensity, small size, geographic remoteness, as well as the social upheaval of the time, few of those students actually graduated from the college. Despite these challenges and the school’s lack of formal accreditation, the legacy of Black Mountain College still lives on today.
Black Mountain College: The Legacy
Black Mountain College is considered one of the most important and influential experiments in education in the 20th century. Even now, decades after its closing, the powerful influence of Black Mountain College continues to reverberate in the local community and around the world. An extraordinarily large number of BMC alumni went on to make major contributions in the fields of architecture, literature, theatre, music, and dance – as artists, architects, writers, teachers, businesspeople, and in many other careers.
Many artists and writers now known around the world were associated with Black Mountain College as teachers or students. These included:
Writers/Poets: Charles Olson, Francine du Plessix Gray, Robert Duncan, Denise Levertov, Jonathan Williams, Ed Dorn, and Robert Creeley. Potters/Sculptors: Peter Voulkos, Robert C. Turner, M.C. Richards Painters: Josef Albers, Jacob Lawrence, Cy Twombly, Kenneth Noland, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline and Robert Motherwell, Robert Rauschenberg, Ben Shahn, Leo Krikorian, Dorothea Rockburne Composer: John Cage Architect: Buckminster Fuller Choreographer: Merce Cunningham Photographer: Jonathon Williams Filmmaker/Actor: Arthur Penn Printmaker/Typographer: Gregory Masurovsky
In 1993, 60 years after the founding of BMC, the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center was opened in downtown Asheville. The Museum serves as an exhibition space and resource center dedicated to exploring the history of the college. Through exhibitions, publications, lectures, films, seminars, and oral history interviews BMCM+AC is committed to spreading awareness of Black Mountain College and its important legacy. Other projects include promoting alumni events and managing a permanent archive for the artwork, historical materials and publications related to the College. In 2008 the Museum celebrated the 75th Anniversary of the college.
Today, the Black Mountain College Historic District is located on 600 acres of the original Lake Eden tract. Camp Rockmont, a boys summer camp, which opened the year that BMC closed, still operates in the summer months while the LEAF festival is held every spring and fall, celebrating world cultures through music and the arts, a mission that stands true to the College’s legacy.
As the birthplace of Black Mountain College, YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly is honored to have been a part of this legacy as well. BMC is one of many milestones in our association’s rich and complex history. It should be noted that just three years after the college relocated, Blue Ridge was reincorporated under the ownership of the YMCAs of the South, undergoing a major renewal program to modernize buildings and expand services. This pivotal moment in our past enabled us to touch countless more lives, impact generations to come, and has shaped who we are today.
Looking back on the fascinating story of Black Mountain College, we are grateful for all of the movers, the shakers, and the leaders who have been a part of our journey. It is our hope that the future of the Assembly is full of the same inspirational vigor and vitality that Black Mountain College provided and look forward to sharing it with you all in the years to come.